The news just broke that Carmelo Anthony will be out three-to-four weeks with a fractured bone in his shooting hand. The only good news being reported is that he doesn't need surgery. It's a somber day in Nuggets Nation indeed, but before we tear up our tickets and call it a season, let's look at the situation realistically and forecast where the Nuggets might be when Melo returns.
At 24-12 currently, the Nuggets are virtually tied with San Antonio for the second best record in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, due to the West remaining ultra competitive, the Nuggets are only 3.5 games ahead of the ninth seed, anchored currently by division rival Utah. Will they remain in such good standing when Melo returns? I believe so, and here's why...
Let's assume Melo won't be back until February 1st (over three-and-a-half weeks from now). Between now and then, the Nuggets have eight of 11 games at the Pepsi Center. Maybe I'm being overly myopic, but I see the Nuggets winning at least five of those eight home games (if I had to guess, they'll lose to either Detroit, Dallas, Orlando, Phoenix or Utah, but not to all five). And the road games are at Houston, New Orleans and Memphis. Let's figure the Nuggets win just one of those.
If I'm right, the Nuggets will wrap up January at 30-17, just a hair worse (projected .638) percentage-wise than where they're at now. That's still on pace for a 52-win season.
Maybe I'm wrong and the Nuggets drop half the home games and all three road games. They'd then be 28-19 (.596) and projected to win 49 games. Still not bad all things considered, but I don't even see that happening.
Of course we all know that January was meant to be the time for the Nuggets to get well ahead in the wins column with all the home dates available and a ghastly road trip on the horizon for February. But is the February road trip really that bad?
...the Nuggets eight game road trip in February is really one five-game and one three-game road trip, because the NBA All-Star break splits it up. Between the Nuggets fifth road game at Orlando and the sixth at Philadelphia, the Nuggets have a full week off.
...the first five games on that road trip are at Oklahoma City, Washington, New Jersey, Miami and Orlando. With Melo back, those are all win-able with the exception of the Magic game which is on the second of a back-to-back and right before the All-Star break.
...after the break, the second three road games are at Philadelphia, Chicago and Milwaukee and none of them are back-to-back affairs. Last I checked, those three teams still suck.
Frankly, I'm much more concerned about the Nuggets three-game home stand at the end of February when they host Boston, Atlanta and the Lakers. Yikes!
Beyond the schedule, there might be other silver linings to Melo's injury. First off, Melo has had elbow problems all season and this month off will give his elbows time to heal. It's not unreasonable to believe he could be even better when he returns. Secondly, J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza have both been playing consistently well as of late and should be able to fill the scoring void left by Melo's absence. J.R. and Linas have griped in the past about their minutes (J.R.) and their contract (Linas). Now J.R. and Linas get the opportunity to prove to the Nuggets that they deserve starter minutes and starter money, respectively. And thirdly, maybe George Karl will remember that he has Renaldo Balkman on his roster and Balkman will play his way into more meaningful playing time as the season goes on.
So as you can see, I'm not spooked by the Melo injury yet. And a win over Miami on Wednesday night would go a long way to instill confidence in the fans that these Nuggets can win with or without their star player.
The Nuggets have played harder for us this season than in recent years past. They need our support now more than ever, so let's give it to them.